BATTLE BREWS OVER MARK CROSS TRADEMARK
Byline: Melanie Kletter
NEW YORK — The once-venerable luxury leather brand Mark Cross may be making a comeback.
The company was closed in 1997 by its owner, Sara Lee Corp., after the consumer-products giant was unable to find a buyer for the brand.
Now, J.P. Wilkin Jr., a former Travelpro luggage company executive, is looking to revive the brand, which operated for more than 150 years. The revival may take longer than expected, however, due to trademark issues and a brewing legal battle over the Mark Cross name.
Wilkin, who lives in Boca Raton, Fla., said he has filed a petition with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office.
“Sara Lee is still the registered trademark owner, but we have filed a petition to cancel that,” Wilkin said in a phone interview. “It is a great brand and a great company, and we think we can take that history and build on that. Sara Lee has abandoned it and we want to assume the trademark.”
A Sara Lee spokeswoman declined to comment too specifically on the situation, except to say that the company is aware someone is trying to use the brand. She said her company’s legal department is in the midst of working on the case. “We will fight vigorously for our trademark,” the spokeswoman said. “We still own the brand and we value it. This is not something we want to give up and we will defend it.”
Wilkin’s lawyer, Mark Stein, said the Trademark Office is currently in the discovery process, which means the office is researching the case to get more information. He said this process will likely take up to six or seven months.
Sara Lee shut down the brand in 1997 to concentrate on its fast-growing Coach label, which has since been spun off as a separate firm. Now, Sara Lee doesn’t own any other handbag lines, which is one reason it may want to hold onto the name.
Wilkin told WWD he has already spoken to several manufacturers about licensing products under the Mark Cross banner, and said he has had interest from a number of companies. He is so confident Sara Lee’s trademark will be canceled that he has already started using the Mark Cross name on his stationery and his personal business cards, and has named himself president of the company, which he incorporated as Mark W. Cross & Co. LLC in June. He is using a rendition of the original logo in his company materials.
According to attorney Marshall Beil, who is not connected with this case, it can be difficult to cancel a trademark.
“The trademark law realizes that companies may have financial reversals and may not use a certain trademark for a time,” said Beil, who is a partner with law firm Ross & Hardies in New York. “If an application is filed, it can be a contested — and lengthy — process.”
Mark Cross was founded in 1845 by Henry Cross, a saddle maker from Ireland who had emigrated to Boston.
The brand at one time carried plenty of cachet — it was a Mark Cross case that Grace Kelly carried in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 thriller “Rear Window” — but it began to struggle in the late Eighties and early Nineties as customers turned away from the expensive handbags. The firm was bought by Sara Lee in 1993 as a complement to Coach. It was estimated to have had sales of about $20 million when Sara Lee was looking for a buyer in 1997. The firm at one time operated stores in a number of U.S. cities.